My name is Alice. A-L-I-C-E. And I'm a craboholic. It started so innocently. A friend of a friend makes an annual Labor Day weekend trip to the Coast to go crabbing with family and friends. Do I want to join? Sure, why not? A couple days of good company, ocean air and a civilized crab dinner, where's the harm in that? What ensued was a 48-hour feeding frenzy that I'm still trying to come to terms with. And crab was only the beginning - my gateway crustacean, if you will, to a full-blown seafood bender.
Winchester Bay on the Central Oregon Coast, a lesser-known fishing village almost directly east of Bend near Reedsport, is a sleepy town where nothing is open much past 9 p.m. With a Labor Day art fair on the bay and a full house of RV/ATVers camped out to tackle the nearby dunes, I imagine the crowd was more than quadruple the usual weekend population, yet it was still pretty quiet.
With the crabbers in our party still out hunting when we arrived, we ducked into Fishpatrick's Crabby Café for a bite, where owner and fishing guide Patrick Roelle has a direct line to the freshest catches of the day. Seafood favorites like fish and chips, calamari strips and clam chowder were all well done, but the best item I tried was a house special hot sandwich: huge chunks of Dungeness crab meat on garlic bread with a blend of melted Swiss and cheddar cheese with fresh tomato slices. When we got there, our server told us that they "just got in a really nice piece of salmon." We took 'just' very seriously coming from the Crabby Café and ordered that as well. Generally, I don't like salmon. Though I realize now that I do, but only when it has been fished out of the water within the hour.
Next came a hard day out on the boat with captain Dan. (When I say "hard," I mean that I sat in a cushioned seat, chatted and took pictures while my companions labored pulling traps out of the water; when I say "day," I mean two hours; and when I say "captain Dan," I mean our friend's dad with the boat who sat back chuckling at the whole scene.) Unlike the group from the previous day who came home with upwards of a dozen crabs for the big meal, we dredged up only three keepers. To compensate for our paltry catch, we swung by Umpqua Aquaculture, an area institution on the dock, to pick up some oysters. (And by "some" I mean a bushel, and by "bushel" it turns out I mean over 100 of the freshest oysters I've ever tasted for $50.)
That night was epic. I think I blacked out from seafood overload at some point but most of what I remember is through a lens blurred by flying crab parts and oyster shells. Unlike a typical hangover where you can't stand the sight of yourself in the morning, I couldn't stand the smell of me. But apparently that wasn't enough to teach me a lesson. On our way out of town, we couldn't resist a parting meal at Unger's Bay, a charming little houseboat fish and chips place floating on the water. That final fried halibut sandwich with pickles and tartar sauce, accompanied by some of the better fries I have had in a while, pushed me over the edge, and now, sadly, I'm in recovery. Just talking about it is giving me cravings. Better go call my sponsor.
Fishpatrick's Crabby Café
196 Bay Front Loop, 271-3474
723 Ork Rock Rd, 271-5684